Published in May-Jun 2021
Of course, mobile apps are an integral part of our daily lives. Mobile usage and penetration continue to trend upward. App builders, and the start-up culture that supports them, are excited about the future. But as anyone who has ever built, managed, debugged and reprogrammed an app already knows (with every software update, for every platform, across every model), there is no app for a nightmare. It’s exhausting to be trending.
And with over five million apps available for download on Play Store and App Store alone, and almost a thousand uploaded daily, what are the chances that yours will be the next rainmaker for your start-up? It has been a little over 14 years since Steve Jobs launched the iPhone and with it, the avalanche of application-based hardware design that gave smartphones capabilities that outstripped simple telephony. This was a decade where an app for app’s sake ruled the roost. That is pretty much why Apple trademarked, “There’s an app for that” – proving their all-pervasive presence.
But the app world is changing. And mobile apps are becoming less relevant as their novelty and utility are slowly wearing off. So what’s going on? For starters, over half of smartphone users are no longer downloading new apps. Instead, they have picked a handful of them to manage most of their tasks. This downturn in downloads is not encouraging for app developers unless they can think of new ways to market and new ways to stay relevant (without compromising financial viability).
One technique is to create a software as service (SaaS) or a cloud-based service that recommends apps a user should engage with, depending on their daily habits. So when they get up, go to work or arrive at a new destination, the service will suggest and recommend apps that are contextual and work best in a given ecosystem. Another technique might be to increase user engagement and retention by giving away rewards, points, free access or content for downloading an app. Given that there is a general apathy towards downloading apps anyway, developers who create for-purchase apps are needlessly pushing away customers who are already accustomed to an abundance of free (or freemium) options.
Maybe the better/bittersweet explanation is that after a decade and a half of experiencing all the candy in the app store, users value convenience, functionality and peer-preference over everything else. Too many apps take up too much visual space on their smartphones, drain memory, run background processes and constantly check for push notifications even when they are not in use. Nor is there any payoff to have high download rates but zero engagement. Today’s smartphone users want fewer apps that get more done. In this way, they get speed, reliability and efficiency across the board. Which means, unless you are a major retailer or content publisher that needs to sell or deliver to customers 24/7 (and you have gazillions saved for promotions and advertising), all you really need is a mobile-friendly website. Because if information is all you have, your customers will Google it in their browsers.
All this is pointing to a direction we are all too familiar with. Industries consolidate as they mature. To stay financially viable, apps need greater and greater economies of scale, large user/subscriber bases, frequent traffic and engagement, among other fundamentals that are required for monetisation. Regardless of how amazing your new app idea may be, getting to critical mass to effectively monetise or break even is a costly and extravagant exercise of money, nerves and data smarts. So it’s time to share a ride with others.
Welcome to the era of the multifunctional-app – where smaller apps can merge with a SuperApp as part of a broader social media and mobile wallet ecosystem. China’s WeChat (it started as an instant messaging service) or Indonesia’s Gojek (initially a ride-share service) are both examples of mega-ecosystems where all the services you need (from ride hailing to food delivery and from financial to lifestyle services) are seamlessly integrated into a single SuperApp that you need never quit.
The shift towards the multifunctional app is a sign that today’s consumer is not looking for apps as novelty but as something that is integral and integrated into their everyday life. Which means, today’s developers must create multifunctional apps with multipurpose platforms that meet their audience’s varied needs in efficient, relevant and reliable ways.
Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE & CD, The D’Hamidi Partnership.